From happy to happier (hopefully)

A few weeks ago, Marlon and I saw a window display for a book about the world’s happiest countries. Imagine how gleefully we chortled upon seeing how our soon-to-be ex-home and our soon-to-be future home stacked up against each other on the list!

Moving 77 places up the list is not too bad, ey?

Though Singapore and I have not exactly been a match made in heaven, we’ve had some great times. And for a place that ranks below Kosovo, Bosnia, and Kazakhstan on the happiness list, it’s done very well for me these last three years. For obvious reasons, there are tons of things I’m looking forward to in Amsterdam. But to be fair, there are also a lot of things I’ll miss about Singapore.

The food. Singapore is where I really fell in love with Asian food. For some reason in Manila, if you want gobsmacking, very authentic Asian food other than Chinese (say Thai or Indian), chances are you have to pay through the nose for it. Not so here. Great food is abundant, very affordable and truly diverse. Unfortunately for me, I have enough added poundage to prove it!

Black pepper crab, my all-time favorite Singapore dish

The professional growth. Coming here stretched me professionally. I probably wouldn’t have pushed myself to take on production if I had stayed home; being shoved out of my comfort zone led me to discover the little payoffs and sweet spots in what seemed, many times, like a muck of difficulty. Among other things, I learned that being “fast” and “nice” is well and good, but not enough to carry me forward; not when there are other things to be, like “reliable”, “accurate”, “professional”… and so much more.

My last shoot with BDA for the Disney Channel in Kuala Lumpur
Finding the courage to leave a job that I’d loved was a daunting risk that paid off. And both learning that I’d done well enough for other people to want to hire me, and being able to sustain a financially rewarding freelance career out of that, have done wonders for my professional confidence.

Our house. I will miss our house! It may be out in the boonies as far as Singaporeans are concerned, but  I’ve loved living in this green, quiet, low-density, sprawling complex.

Our home has been an expression of Marlon’s and my still-developing identity as a newlywed couple. We’ve had so much fun decorating it (even if I did end up getting rid of half the furniture), making my first culinary steps (and mis-steps) in it, hosting the many guests of “Hotel Plazo” (or Palazzo Plazo, as Pauline calls it), just holing up and getting cozy on leisurely weekends, and yes, even messing it up when we just get too damn lazy. I enjoyed the comforts of home especially over the last six months when I started working freelance.
 The view that tells me the workday is over
It may not be a Town & Country or even a Real Living kind of place, but it’s been our home. And I sure am going to miss having a pool…
Singapore = 1, Amsterdam = 0

Note to self: must swim more this week! Barring Boracay and Bohol in December, God only knows when I’ll get to swim next!

Multicultural colleagues and friends. The locals may complain about us “FTs” or foreign talents (some even go as far as to call us foreign trash), but Singapore sure knows how to attract people from all over the world. (Whether they actually stay and put down roots is another story.) There are just so many expats here.

Happier times at BDA
I’ve had the chance to work with people from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, India, Japan, Australia, the US and the UK; some of the dearest friends Marlon and I have made here are from as far away as Colombia and South Africa.

Just like when I traveled to Europe with the Glee Club, meeting people of different cultures and backgrounds makes you realize there are so many different ways to live, so you don’t feel completely insane for making certain decisions. (Like going freelance and moving to Amsterdam, for example.)

The infrastructure. When locals whine about their infrastructure, sometimes I just want to slap them and say “Please travel more! And you’ll see that in this world, you’re lucky just to have a country that works!” Because public transport here is pretty awesome.

It’s why we haven’t felt the need for a car for three years (seven years for Marlon). And it’s why I don’t understand why one of the most widely circulated newspapers in the country prints letters to the editor that are about such pressing problems as puddles (yes, puddles) in MRT stations and heated pleas to the government for an in-train display that lights up to tell you what stop you’re at and on which side of the train the doors will open. (People! It’s four freaking MRT lines, not rocket science! Have you seen the metro systems in Paris, Tokyo, Seoul?)

But I guess discovering malfunctions in such a well-oiled system can be like paying through the nose for tickets to Disneyland and finding out that Space Mountain is down for repairs. Oh, and I’ll miss cabs.

Cabs are my biggest vice here by far. Never mind the cabbies and their driving. I’ll miss relatively affordable taxi rides (relative to Europe, that is), being able to book taxis via SMS, and having them arrive in minutes. Ohhhh. If I think about it too much, I might get depressed. On to the next.

The large, and growing, Pinoy community. The number of Pinoys in Singapore has boomed since I first started visiting Marlon seven years ago. And the demographic is changing; for the first time in the history of Singapore, there are more Filipino professionals than Filipino domestic helpers. Nowadays, I catch snatches of Tagalog nearly everywhere I go. It’s like living in Makati. Or sometimes, Katipunan.

With Singapore-based high school and college classmates (Justine was visiting)

It’s great to be able to speak Tagalog to someone (most often on the customer-facing side of things) to break the ice, get things done, or simply create instant rapport. It’s even better to run into old acquaintances and rekindle friendships. And best of all, because of the large Pinoy community, it’s easy to get a lot of things home. In the mood for longganisadaing na bangus, sukang pinakurat, even pan de sal? Lucky Plaza lang ang katapat niyan.

Proximity to home. Cheap flights were a godsend for me in the first few months here, when I was still very homesick and hadn’t found work. Later on, as I started to make a home for myself here, the Philippines became our destination of choice for short getaways.

 Happiness in Bohol

I tried going to a few other beaches (Phuket, isdatchu?), but I guess there really is no place like home. It’s just ironic that I could only really afford to travel around my own country once I got out of it. When plane fare home moves up by from three digits to four next year, I am sure going to miss being able to hop on a Philippine-bound plane at the drop of a hat!

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Thoughts from a tindera

With the prospect of European flea markets and Dutch design beckoning at us from across the miles, Marlon and I agreed to take as few of our current set of belongings as possible to make space for new finds. 
This plan excites the stuffing out of me because I love design, I love vintage stuff and I’ve been longing to sink my teeth into a good flea market for years! And Marlon? He’s just been itching to tear through the house stuffing junk into a big black garbage bag. Having first moved to Singapore with just two suitcases, he’s always remarked to me with a mixture of wonder and horror how much stuff we’ve accumulated since… well, since I’ve moved in. And I have to admit he is right.
After spending a couple of hours being overwhelmed by just how much crap we had, Marlon and I decided to divide the tasks according to our strengths. I, being the internet addict, would sell our furniture on Craigslist and Gumtree; Marlon, being the brawny male, would haul all the stuff we wanted to get rid of into the living room for a good old-fashioned garage sale. 
The man has visual merchandising skills! A must-have in every husband.

Let me tell you, the last two weeks of organizing all these sales has taught me much, the hard way, about furnishing a home.

First is, take your time. Marlon and I were nest-crazed newlyweds who powered through the entire process in just a few weeks. Haste leads to waste; it also leads to Ikea. Which is cute and fun and great for a newlywed budget, but not for everything.

It’s not that our stuff is hideous (on the contrary, we’ve had a good number of compliments on our home), it’s just that it seemed ridiculous to go through all the trouble of shipping furniture made of particleboard planks *ahem*Ikea*ahem* all the way to Europe. For example, our bookshelves, as cleanly designed and useful as they were, might not even make it in one piece!

Happy to have sold this baby for a decent price. Cat not included!

Second, furniture is an investment; buy only things you’d want to keep forever or those that will command a decent resale value. I had my fair share of buyers who agreed to take my stuff, but when factoring in the cost of transport, found that they would pay almost double what they intended to spend. These people just flaked out on me altogether, and it pissed me off. In the end, I had to sell things for dirt cheap just to dispose of them.

I am amazed by my friend Ayessa, who lived in Jakarta for a nearly a year with only a bed and appliances until she and her hubby could save up for solid antique teakwood furniture. Talk about willpower! It is stories like these (plus awesome design blogs like Design*Sponge and Apartment Therapy, among others) that inspire me to put more time and care into furnishing our next home. And happily, Marlon has agreed to let me be the captain of that particular ship.

So as I bid farewell to our bargain-priced furniture, I also say goodbye to Ikea rampages and impulse buys… and hello to mood boards, flea markets and (crossing my fingers) some very thoughtful shopping!

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A Rogue in our home

there’s a new member of the paul-plazo household. she’s five months old, covered in sleek black fur with lovely white streaks from each of her eyes up to her ears, and a long hooked tail. her name is rogue, and she is a beauty.

the cat idea had been floating around since late last year, when i realized that moving out of our askal-populated home in mandaluyong meant that i could have a cat again. though marlon has always been a dog person, he warmed to the idea of a cat when he took into account our busy schedules (cats are way more low-maintenance) and living space (70 sqm is not enough for an active pooch). so we both agreed to get a cat at some undefined point in time, but never really put any work into getting it done.
then i got really bored at work. with two big pitches and a couple of promos completed last friday, monday was the first day that i actually spent a full day at work without actually doing anything related to work. after making the rounds of my usual online haunts (chuvaness, pep, facebook, et al) there was nothing left for me to do except… google “singapore cat adoption.” patay!
the days that followed were completely cat-crazy. i looked at the spca and cat welfare society, learned about the horrifying tale of the cat hoarder,  sent links to marlon and discussed many a prospective pet over yahoo messenger with him. i must have emailed and texted over 10 cat rescuers and “fosters”, mostly asking about pure black kittens aged three months to over a year old.
level one: the questionnaire
i got a couple of encouraging responses, but the one i really wanted to hear from was davis, foster daddy to a beautiful pure black cat named charcoal. to see the adorable-ness that sucked me in big time, check out the last cat posted on august 12 here.
and when i finally heard from charcoal’s foster, boy, was it a whopper of a reply. for a brief moment, i knew what it was like to be angelina jolie, or even madonna. because the adoption requirements and screening process was just… basta.

Name : Charcoal
Age : 3 months
Sex : Female
Type : Mixed black tabby

Note: Needs patience & time to get her warmed up to you as she was a stray kitten and has no contact with human before at very young age. Near missed by a vehicle & rescued. Traumatized due to siblings knocked down by a vehicle. Probably weeks or months to get her warmed up. Once warmed up, she will be very friendly and will stick to you very closely and follow you where ever you go. Very nosy (kay po) & curious, and would like to follow you & see what you do everyday.

Favourites
1. Enjoys running around & playing with you or toys.
2. Loves to be cleaned on her head and face with your wet fingers.
3. Loves to be bottle-fed with milk before going to bed at about mid-nite.
4. Loves to sleep on a hammock.

Do’s (Her Routine)
1. Litterbox / toilet trained but need to guide her initially before each meals to familiarize your place.
2. Litterbox : A tray with newspaper and sand (preferred brand : Fussie Cat – Lemon @$7.00 per 10litres pack).
3. Clumps to be removed from the sand (otherwise she will play with the clumps).
4. Clean her feets & bottom with wet serviettes after using the litterbox.
5. Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner & Supper with dry food & water.
6. Dry Food (Science Diet or Eagle – Chicken Flavour) or whichever you can introduce.
7. Play with her after each meals as a reward.
8. After supper, clean her with your wet hands (with very little cat shampoo and anti-flea spray on your hands).
9. Feed her with milk in bottle max: 15ml at least once a day (Preferred Milk : Animalac Milk Powder)

Don’ts
1. Open windows and open doors that she will jump out as she’s very nosy and curious.
2. Toilet bowls and plug holes to covered as she’s very curious to jump in.

tumbling! may brand preference ang hitad. saan ka pa? pero siyempre feeling ko hindi na yan routine nung pusa kundi ng taong umampon sa kanya.
at kung tumumbling ako sa listahan na yan, nag-nastia liukin floor routine ako sa listahan na sumunod.

I would like to know a little more about you as the caregiver to check if you’re suitable to love & care for Charcoal. 1. Do you want the kitten for yourself or is it for a gift?
2. Do you have any experience with cat / kitten?
3. Are you above 21 year old? Are your working or studying?
5. Do you live with your parents, landlords or do you own or rent your apartment?
6. What’s your working hours? Do you spend most of your time at home and how long?
7. How many adults & children live in your apartment?
8. Who will be responsible for the kitten & how long you or whoever will responsible will look after the kitten?
9. Do you have any pets now or in the past?
10. What are they and how long did you have your pets?
11. Will this kitten be an indoor or outdoor pet?
12. Do you plan on having the kitten de-clawed?
13. If you moved, what would you do with the kitten?
14. Does everybody in your family want an adopted cat / kitten?
15. Is anyone in your household allergic to cat / kitten?
16. Do you have carrier, harness & leash, enclosed yard, cat-proof fencing or enclosure?
17. Do you have the financial resources to pay for the kitten – food, litter, medical fees, incidentals & etc?
18. Do you plan to sponsor the kitten for vaccination (asap) & sterilization (6 month old) and regular vet checkups?
19. May I visit your home to see how and where the kitten would be living?
20. Will we or CWS members to visit the kitten / cat from time to time within reasonable limits to see if it is well-taken care of?

suddenly makes you wonder what the adoption process for children is like in the philippines and if it’s even half this stringent.
the next level: home inspection
mejo nabuwisit ako sa simula, especially since hindi naman talaga kanila yung pusa. pero go lang, kasi ang cuuuuuuute cuuuuuuute cuuuuuuute niya talaga. so sumagot naman ako.
i realized marlon and i have lived with enough pets to open a small zoo. our combined pet history covers: one poodle, six spitzes, five german shepherds, one husky, ten mongrels, three rabbits, four hamsters, god knows how many fish, five turtles, four turkeys, four maya birds, a cage of parakeets, an indian cockatoo, a duck, a chicken, fourteen chicks and generations upon generations of rescued stray cats.
so this zoological version of the twelve days of christmas must have impressed charcoal’s foster parent, because he replied speedily, revealing the next stage of the adoption process: a house inspection. sa tumbling na ginawa ko, i swear puwedeng-puwede na akong isali sa chinese olympic gymnastics team.
marlon and i hosted a lunch for his officemates today, so it was perfect timing — the house was clean and we were in a rare social mood. at quarter to six (well over an hour after our agreed time of 4.30pm), davis and his wife jennifer brought over our little charcoal. dahil mukhang pumasa naman kami sa mag-asawang umampon sa kanya, naging “our” little charcoal talaga siya in less than one hour.
they gave us a “starter kit” of packed kitty litter, food, toys and even lent us their cat carrier with the cutest DIY hammock inside. they even offered to accompany us on the kitty’s visits to the vet. which was nice but a bit strange because i think if marlon and i can relocate, establish careers abroad, furnish our own place and manage our household siguro naman kaya naming magdala ng pusa sa vet diba?
 
ewan. inisip ko na lang na super attached sila. after all, they did rescue the poor kitty at 5 weeks old from the middle of a major intersection… after its sibling had been splattered all over the street. they loved her and took care of her until she got over her skittishness and trauma. so i figured a little weirdness is justified. kahit pinapirma pa kami ng adoption contract. sige na.
level three: the renaming
as our new kitty quickly staked out its favorite spot under our two low, circular coffee tables, marlon and i lay on the living room floor thinking of a new name — charcoal wasn’t quite doing it for us. we went through a couple of names — ash (after aishwarya rai, since the kitty was all eyes), pepper, even the completely silly beyonce, bulbol and kili-kili. then i saw the spine of one of the magazines on our coffee table, and knew we had the perfect name: rogue.
and so the evening has been a quiet one at home, as we let rogue get used to her new digs and to having the two of us around. she’s warmed up quicker than i thought — we had a great time lying on our stomachs on the floor, stroking her back and her jaw as she purred like a motorboat gone mad. she even let marlon carry her into the TV room for a little bit of cuddly while he watched wrestling. now she’s back under the coffee table — kind of an odd spot for a cat, but hey, who are we to complain now that we have her?
later i decided to tack on blair to make a full name — blair after blair waldorf, my favorite character on gossip girl (pretty, snooty, naughty) and after the blair witch project, because this kitty can look absolutely creepy when she stares out at you from under the shadows of the coffee table.
so her full name is blair rogue paul-plazo (ang landi!), but mostly she’s just rogue. and just perfect. :)
please excuse the crappy photo — i can’t find my digicam cable and we just have our camera phones, and this kitty wriggles like crazy!
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